Women in space
Women of many nationalities have worked in space. The first woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, flew in 1963. Although space programs were slow to incorporate them, women became common in space programs in the 1980s and beyond. Most women in space have been United States citizens, primarily with missions on the Space Shuttle. Three countries maintain active space programs that include women: China, Russia, and the United States of America. In addition, a number of other countries – Canada, France, India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom – have sent women into orbit or space on Russian or US missions.
Women in space face many of the same challenges faced by their male counterparts: physical difficulties from non-Earth conditions and psychological stresses of isolation and separation. Motherhood can be an additional issue. Scientific studies on amphibians and non-human mammals generally show no adverse affect from short space missions, although the effect of extended space travel on human reproduction is not known.
As of July 2014, while 24 men have journeyed to the moon, no woman has travelled beyond low earth orbit.
Women in space programs
A number of women have traveled into space. Although the first woman flew into space in 1963, very early in crewed space exploration, it would not be until almost 20 years later that another flew. Female astronauts/cosmonauts went on to become commonplace in the 1980s.
Russia, including the Soviet Union
The first woman in space was a Soviet cosmonaut. Valentina Tereshkova launched with the Vostok 6 mission on June 16, 1963. The first woman to walk in space was also a cosmonaut: Svetlana Savitskaya was on her second mission when she spaced-walked on July 17, 1984. Russian Yelena V. Kondakova became the first woman to travel for both the Soyuz programme and the Space Shuttle.
The Russian space program has also hosted international cosmonauts. Helen Sharman from the United Kingdom (1991), Claudie Haigneré from France (1996 and 2001), Anousheh Ansari from Iran (2006), and Yi So-yeon of South Korea (2008) have entered space as part of the Soyuz programme.
The United States did not have a woman in space until 1983, when astronaut Sally Ride launched with the seventh Space Shuttle mission. Since then, however, more than 40 American women have entered space. Most served on the various Space Shuttle flights from 1983 to 2010. Six American women have also served on Soyuz flights.
In addition, US rockets have launched international astronauts. Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette from Canada (in 1992 and 1999/2009), Kalpana Chawla of India (1997 and 2003), and Chiaki Mukai and Naoko Yamazaki of Japan (1994/1998 and 2010) flew as part of the US space program.
A number of other high-profile women have contributed to interest in space programs. In the early 2000s, Lori Garver initiated a project to increase the visibility and viability of commercial spaceflight with the "AstroMom" project. She aimed to fill an unused Soyuz seat bound for the International Space Station because "…creating a spacefaring civilization was one of the most important things we could do in our lifetime.”
In 2012, China became the fourth nation to send women into space. (The others are Russia, the former Soviet Union, and the United States.)
China's first female astronaut candidates, chosen in 2010 from the ranks of fighter pilots, were required to be married mothers. The Chinese stated that married women were "more physically and psychologically mature" and that the rule ensured the women had already reproduced. The unknown nature of the effects of spaceflight on women was also noted. However, the director of the China Astronaut Centre has stated that marriage is a preference but not a strict limitation. China's first woman astronaut, Liu Yang, was married but with no children at the time of her flight in June 2012.
Mothers in orbit
Many human mothers have traveled in space. Anna Fisher became the first when she flew into orbit aboard Discovery with mission STS-51-A on November 8, 1984. (Yuri Gagarin was already a father at the time of Vostok 1, his historic first flight.)
Valentina Tereshkova was the first female in space to become a mother (after her flight). Shannon Lucid was already a mother when selected in 1978 to be an astronaut. She remembers being questioned by the press at that time on how her children would handle her being a mother in space. She went on to set an American record for time spent in space. During an 188 day stay in space, she sent daily emails to keep in touch with her family.
Some more recent examples include astronaut and mother Nicole Stott, who made history in 2009 when she sent live Twitter messages from the ISS. Karen Nyberg became the 50th woman in space in 2008, and she is has logged more than 340 hours on long-term missions in space. Cady Coleman spent Mother's day in orbit in 2011.
Human mothers in space face a number of challenges related to managing family life and spaceflight. By the 2010s, email and Internet phones were noted as being used for communication with families when separated. One mother in space maintained a more tangible connection with her husband and son while in orbit, by talking with them over a phone and having a video conference once a week. According to the New York Times, another space mother brought her son's toys into orbit.
The topic of mothers in space gained prominence in 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded less than 2 minutes after launch with the loss of all hands. One of the crew, Christa McAuliffe, was a wife and mother of two. Although Challenger failed to reach orbit before the explosion, the disaster is linked to motherhood in space. McAuliffe's mother had supported her dreams to be the first teacher in space, and she noted that although her daughter had trained for any number of emergencies on the Shuttle, no one had anticipated a disaster of that scope.
Laurel Clark was an astronaut mother who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, leaving behind her husband and son. Years later, her husband noted how his son helped him through the loss of his wife.
Physical effects of space on women
Female astronauts are subject to the same general physical effects of space travel as men. These include physiological changes due to weightlessness such as loss of bone and muscle mass, health threats from cosmic rays, dangers due to vacuum and temperature, and psychological stress.
Scientific study of motherhood in space
NASA has not permitted pregnant astronauts to fly in space, and to public knowledge there have been no pregnant women in space. However, various science experiments have dealt with some aspects of motherhood.
Exposure to radiation is a concern. For air travel, the United States' Federal Aviation Administration recommends a limit of 1 mSv total for a pregnancy, and no more than 0.5 mSv per month. Astronauts on Apollo and Skylab missions received on average 1.2 mSv/day and 1.4 mSv/day respectively. Exposures on the ISS average 0.4 mSv per day (150 mSv per year), although frequent crew rotations minimize risk to individuals. A study published in 2005 in the International Journal of Impotence Research reported that short-duration missions (no longer than nine days) did not affect "the ability of astronauts to conceive and bear healthy children to term." In another experiment, the frog Xenopus laevis successfully ovulated in space.
Radiation shielding has been noted as an issue for space colonization because a mother-to-be's children could be sterile if she were exposed to too much ionizing radiation during the later stages of a pregnancy. Ionizing radiation may destroy the egg cells of a female fetus inside a pregnant woman, rendering the offspring infertile even when grown.
The lack of knowledge about pregnancy and birth control in microgravity has been noted in regards to conducting long-term space missions.
While no human has gestated in space as of 2013, scientists have conducted experiments on non-human mammalian gestation. Space missions that have studied "reproducing and growing mammals" includes Kosmos 1129 and 1154, as the Shuttle missions STS-66, 70, 72, and 90. A Soviet experiment in 1983 showed that a rat who orbitted while pregnant later gave birth to healthy babies; the babies were "thinner and weaker than their Earth-based counterparts and lagged behind a bit in their mental development," although the developing pups eventually caught up.
A 1998 Space Shuttle mission showed that rodent Rattus mothers were either not producing enough milk or not feeding children in space. However, a later study on pregnant rats showed that the animals successfully gave birth and lactated normally.
To date no human children have been born in space, nor have children gone into space. Nevertheless, the idea of children in space is taken seriously enough that some have discussed how to write curriculum for children in space-colonizing families.
- List of female astronauts
- List of space travelers by nationality
- List of married couples among space travelers
- Sex in space
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